Article by PBI-Canada

Photo from Casanare Noticias.

A preliminary court appearance for the social leaders criminalized in November 2018 for their opposition to Toronto-based Frontera Energy in San Luis de Palenque has now been set for September 23-25, almost two years after they were arrested.

Frontera’s operations in their community are said to have resulted in dust pollution from heavy trucks on the road; post-production water being sprayed on the road to contain the dust; the dumping of post-production water into the Pauto River; water-takings from the river; and the burning of gases associated with the extraction of these barrels of oil.

Michel Forst, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, noted this case in his report to the UN Human Rights Council last year.

Forst’s report stated (on page 9, points 29 and 30): “Social protests [took place] between 2016 and 2018 in response to the failure of Canadian public company Frontera Energy to fulfil its obligation to compensate communities affected by environmental damage and to repair damaged roads.”

Violeta Stereo FM Casanare adds: “According to the peasants and social leaders, the protests at the time sought to make visible the breach of the environmental license and the other agreements signed between the multinational and the community.”

Significantly, Forst highlighted in his report that Frontera then signed two agreements on November 16 and 19, 2018 with the Colombian Ministry of Defence totalling US$1.3 million to provide protection for the company.

Then shortly afterwards, on November 27, 2018, the army and police launched a massive operation and arrested eight community activists.

They were charged with criminal conspiracy, violence against a public servant, and obstruction of a public road among other crimes. Three of those activists were sent to prison and five were placed under house arrest.

On August 10, the Social Corporation for Community Advisory and Training Services (COSPACC) tweeted: “The 2nd Municipal Criminal Court [has] revoked the custodial arrest measure imposed on 2 of the 8 leaders prosecuted in the case of #SanLuisdePalenque. We demand the freedom of social leaders.”

The following day, Prensa Libre Casanare reported: “After 20 months of being deprived of liberty, with the measure of house for jail, the judicial decision favored the engineer Miguel Ángel Rincón Santiesteban and Carmen Iraida Salcedo Gutiérrez.”

“The appeal was presented by criminal lawyer Juan Álvarez who at the end of the hearing reported that the revocation of the security measure was requested based on three elements used by the Prosecutor’s Office to carry out the criminal process, such as an intelligence report from the Army , some telephone calls and a confidential testimonial source, whose probative basis did not have sufficient support, since, for example, the Prosecutor’s Office waived the evidence of an alleged undercover agent.”

That article adds that Ferney Salcedo continues to be held in the La Picota prison, and that conditions remain on community activists Yulibe Leal, Jesús Leal Salcedo, Teresa Rincón Leal, Eliecer Rincón and Jerónimo Betancourt.

The Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (CSPP) and COSPACC recently submitted a letter to the Canadian Ombudsperson for Responsible Enterprise (CORE) requesting an investigation of this situation.

PBI-Colombia accompanies both COSPACC and the CSPP.

PBI-Canada has been supporting this accompaniment by organizing Zoom meetings in Canada with Member of Parliament Paul Manly, civil society allies, and representatives from Global Affairs Canada and the Canadian Embassy in Colombia.

In that May 14 call with Global Affairs Canada and embassy staff, Alexandra González Zapata representing the CSPP highlighted that 10 companies backed by Canadian capital have signed cooperation agreements with state security services.

Fabian Laverde of COSPACC then noted that cooperation agreements with companies essentially mean that state security forces are acting as private security for oil companies against the rights and interests of community members.

Peace Brigades International continues to monitor this situation closely.

Photos: 1) A November 12, 2018 protest in San Luis de Palenque against Frontera Energy, about two weeks prior to the arrest of community leaders, published by the newspaper Las Chivas. 2) A December 14, 2018 protest in San Luis de Palenque demanding the release of the eight social leaders arrested on November 27, 2018.